Director: Benedict Andrews
Cast: Rooney Mara, Ben Mendelsohn, Ruby Stokes, Riz Ahmed
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexual content, nudity and language)
Running Time: 1:34
Release Date: 10/6/17 (limited); 10/13/17 (wider); 12/8/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 7, 2017
There's a strange absence of conviction to Una. The movie tells the story of a woman in her late 20s, who tracks down the man who had a sexual relationship with her over a decade ago—when she was 13 years old. He was much older than her then, and obviously, he's even older now.
The movie treats this relationship—in the past and in the present—with the level of discomfort that we would and should expect. Through flashbacks, it's clear that Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) was a predator, showing up to see the just-teenaged daughter of his neighbors for no legitimate reason, telling her things that he suspects a teenage girl wants to hear, and ultimately scheming to get her into his home when he knows the house will be free to just the two of them.
In the present day, Ray, who has since changed his name to Peter, is a manager at a warehouse, where none of his employees or employers know of his past. He says he told his wife, whom he met after spending four years in prison for having sex with a minor, about his crime, but that seems unlikely, especially hearing it from him.
Ray is a manipulator, and Una, played in the story's present by Rooney Mara, has never recovered from his manipulations. We first see her sneaking out of her family home, where she still lives with her mother, to go to a club at night. She dances, mostly with herself and with seemingly little awareness of the people around her. She meets a random guy and has sex with him in the public restroom.
The dawn is breaking as she walks back home. After a quick shower and a few words of attempted comfort to her mother, Una is back out into the world, on her way to confront Ray at his place of work about their shared past, their tortured present, and their uncertain future.
There are plenty of questions here, and none of them are easy. Has Ray changed his predilections along with his name? Is Una seeking closure, revenge, or something else? Is there even a possibility of closure, revenge, or that mysterious something else under these circumstances?
David Harrower's screenplay, which was adapted from the writer's own play Blackbird, cares enough about the psychology behind these characters that he doesn't provide easy answers. That he doesn't offer any answers is the most troubling part. It's troubling in the sense that it seems accurate, but it's also troubling in how the movie ultimately offers little by way of condemnation for Ray or consolation for Una.
This is, one supposes, to be expected, since Harrower is wise enough to know that a resolution isn't really possible in this specific scenario. There's something uncomfortable, though, about the story's specifics and how they seem to be pointing toward a more general outlook on the effects of abuse, the nature of sexual predation, and the possibility of finding closure. Harrower might not be trying to make such general points through this story, but we're never convinced that these characters are anything more than vaguely constructed pawns, working their way through a tale that will offer them no answers, no comfort, and no resolution.
The main characters are broadly drawn. As played by Mara, Una is essentially an empty vessel, with a distant—almost dead—look in her eyes. She's reckless and unthinking in her ways. She's not a survivor. Harrower writes the character as a victim, trapped in the emotional state of her 13-year-old self (Ruby Stokes plays Una as a teenager). We're never entirely certain what Una wants. It's easy enough to dismiss that as the inherent nature of the character, but here, she switches between anger over what Ray did and anger over the fact that their relationship ended in the way that it did. It becomes clear that Una wants that "something more" out of this encounter, because, in her mind, her relationship with Ray was prematurely terminated because of things beyond their control.
To an extent, we can understand her, but Ray is entirely different matter. He's a mystery from the start, and it's difficult to determine if Harrower writes him that way to continue the through line that he's a liar or to keep these characters on an even ground in our reaction to them. It's possible that he has rehabilitated during and after his time in prison, and it's just as likely that he's continuing his scheming in order to keep his past quiet, even as he's confronted by it.
Mara and Mendelsohn are equally strong in handling the material they're given. It's difficult stuff, as emotions veer and collide with little warning and with sometimes-physical results. As drama, Una becomes a bit repetitive, as these characters constantly circle around the same truths about their feelings and obfuscations about the realities of what they want. As a study of abuse, it's impossible to ignore the queasy feeling that Harrower is doing something of a disservice in putting these characters on even ground.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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